Margin Call is set at a large investment bank. It begins with a firing squad walking down a long corridor, sending chills up the spines of nearby employees. Yes, people are going to get fired. Head of sales, Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) explains “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.” Among the many terminated is Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci), a high ranking employee in risk management. He insists on finishing up with his final report but his boss reminds him that it doesn’t concern him anymore. His protégé, Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) escorts him to the lift where he hands over the responsibility of completing the final report and says “Be careful.” Before Sullivan can react the elevator closes. Later that night, on finishing the report, Peter Sullivan predicts an economic meltdown. Everyone’s going down. “Look at all these people; they don’t have the slightest idea about what’s about to happen,” he remarks.
Disaster lurking around is acknowledged by the angst that you see on all their faces, one at a time, as the news gets passed up the chain of command. This is one of those situations happening and about to happen, where you understand close to nothing but everyone’s genuinely concerned and terrified so you decide to stay and watch. Margin Call’s inspirations are obvious- 12 angry men, Glengarry Glen Ross, Network, Wall Street. You don’t have to understand all the fiscal details to be a part of the ride. The firm intends to sell off its stocks at a significantly lower price to people who’re only later going to find out that they’re worthless. Sam Rogers is more sympathetic than the rest of the brokers. When urged by a superior to go along (“We’re salesman, we only sell”) he protests”You don’t sell anything to anybody unless you think they are going to come back for more.”
Shot under a budget of $3million and in three weeks, Margin Call might not have depth but it is well-crafted and smartly acted. The casting choice is perfect and the characters are etched well. Among the actors, the real star is Jeremy Irons as John Tuld, a menacing predator who swoops down on the venue in a helicopter and makes his mark despite being on screen for considerably lesser time. He is mesmerizing even when he says “Explain it as you would to a little child; or a golden retriever.” His character’s motto in life is “Be first. Be smarter. Or cheat.” But Director J.C.Chandor doesn’t demonize the brokers. They simply choose themselves over everyone else. The material had enough scope to become a hell of a play. Being adapted as a film is as good as it gets. The stifled atmosphere keeps you hooked. That is, before it totally knocks you out.
Rating – 8/10.